This past Sunday, we had our wonderful Mother’s Day celebration. Unfortunately, many of our parishioners - mothers, especially - couldn’t make it to church. One of our parishioners told me that it was out of an abundance of caution. As is often the case on Mother’s Day, we had our fun competition during worship and distributed carnation flowers to all the mothers. The real joy, for me, was seeing the children going around the sanctuary and distributing flowers to their own mothers and to other mothers.
What struck me was that, after distributing the flowers, I saw Danny with a broken carnation flower stem that he gave to his parents. I don’t know why Danny took the broken stem to his parents, Preethi and Sam, but that sight alone reminded me of a dream I had several weeks ago. This was one of those dreams which was so vivid that when I woke up from it, I picked up my phone and immediately typed all that I could recall in a text message and sent it to my cousin, who featured prominently in the dream.
This is what I sent to my cousin:
Leske (my cousin’s nickname), I just woke up from a beautiful dream and I thought I’d share it with you because you were in the dream. You were on a stage surrounded by lots and lots of people, including lots of Adisco boys (we attended the same boy's high school and students at the school are referred to as Adisco boys), including Uncle. (Uncle is my cousin’s late father).
You stood on the stage holding a rose flower on a stem. Unfortunately, part of the stem was broken, and you said something to the effect that we have all suffered broken hearts and lives before, but if you feel broken, I invite you to reach out to my own Ato Kwamena Mercer (that’s my tribal name).
You then invited me to come on to the stage. I walked from among the crowd to the stage holding a pair of scissors and a tape. When I got the chance to address the crowd, I said to them, "Life is not only about being broken but also about mending and healing." And with your help, we cut a piece of the tape and joined the broken rose stem with tape.
Not many of us can remember details of our dreams. But I don’t recall having my cousin feature in any of my dreams before. He was very surprised at what I told him. He thought the dream was so profound and said he would give it some thought. I don’t know what he meant by that. "What was he going to think about?" I asked myself. But as far as I can remember, that was the first time I had a dream with my cousin in it, and it was one of the dreams that surprised me as well.
You may want to read as much as you want into what the dream may portend, or analyze it in any way that you can. But two words jumped out at me: brokenness and healing.
The profound message is the idea that life is not about being broken but it is about healing and mending. And if you ask me, that’s the most important part of our relationship with each other, and with ourselves. This is because each of us holds a broken rose stem.
There’s a story of a woman who was brought to Jesus by her accusers. The charge against her was that she was caught in the very act of adultery. And according to the law, Deuteronomy 22:22, she should die. Jesus responded to the accusers “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.” He then lowered his head and looked down on the ground. The strange thing that happened was that one after the other, the woman’s accusers went away. When Jesus lifted up his head, he saw no one but the woman.
"Where are your accusers?" He asked. “Has no one condemned you?”
She answered, “No one, Lord.”
Hear Jesus’ sweet response: “Then neither do I condemn you. Now go and sin no more.”
Who is it that doesn’t hold a broken rose stem with a rose flower on it? Who is it that doesn’t hold a broken carnation stem? I truly want to know. As evidenced by the story, each of us holds a broken stem, just as each of the woman’s accusers held a broken stem. And because they were aware of their own brokenness, their response was to walk away without condemning her.
The power of redemption is the healing that is made possible by, and through, our acceptance of our own brokenness. It is when we accept the broken rose or carnation stems that we’re holding that we can actually accept the healing and mending that we need. In fact, we all need a pair of scissors and some tape to put our lives back together.
Over the past several days, I have received responses to an email that a beloved parishioner sent to some other parishioners. The email was about this parishioner’s discomfort with the issue of reparations. As many of you know, I welcome robust debate about any and all issues because I believe that such discourse enriches our common life. The fact is, we may not all agree about the exact same thing, but at least we can hold each other up with respect and honor.
The reality is that we cannot quantify the depth of damage suffered by our African American ancestors over the evil of slavery. We cannot assume that slavery didn’t cause any pain. We cannot assume that the evils of slavery no longer dominate our society. We cannot assume that those who endured slavery are any different from their descendants who still bear the scars of slavery. We cannot assume that those who profited from slavery are any different from their descendants who enjoy the benefit of their wealth. We cannot assume that we are a post-racial society when we haven’t yet fixed the issues that bedevil African American descendants of slavery.
In my opinion, reparations wouldn’t necessarily fix or solve all the problems of African Americans, including my own children. But I believe that any honest attempt at mitigating the effects of the evils of slavery must be commended and supported.
The fact is, slavery is our broken carnation stem. The woman’s adultery is also our broken rose stem. But remember, life isn’t merely about our broken stems... it is about the healing and mending.
And what can ever go wrong with an attempt at healing or mending those broken stems we’re holding?